“I despise people who can’t control themselves”: 'In Cold Blood' Review
It’s hard to adapt a bestseller, let alone a controversial bestseller that is considered one of the greatest books of true crime ever written. Based on Truman Capote’s groundbreaking account of one of America’s most tragic crimes ever recorded, In Cold Blood finds writer, producer, and director Robert Brooks at the top of his game.
The main story concerns two criminals, Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson, yes, he of The Walking Dead fame), as they plan to rob the house of the Clutter Family, whom they believe has a safe with a lot of money. It’s no spoiler to say that the film is as much an account of the tragedy that followed as well as the trial that happened afterward.
Much like with several other true crime films, Brooks infuses the film with an impending sense of dread and doom. Since the opening sequence of a bus fast approaching the camera, Brooks’ film moves at a rapid pace that gives the story a forward momentum. One of a fascinating aspects of the film is the unconventional and truly unforgettable score by Quincy Jones. For a story like this, you’d expect a more moody and stark score, but Jones imbues the film with a jazzy soundtrack that gives the movie a stylish and wild energy that instantly makes a case for itself as one of unique scores of a true crime film ever produced.
Aside from the excellent score, In Cold Blood also benefits greatly from stunning cinematography courtesy of the legendary Conrad Hall (Road to Perdition, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, American Beauty). Shot in gorgeous black and white, Hall’s lighting achieves a borderline documentary style that gives the film a raw and vivid authenticity. Wilson and Blake are both excellent as Hickock and Smith, especially during the scenes when they’re planning the robbery. Blake’s character arc, though, is incredible and goes from confident to repentant (just look at the last scene and how dramatically powerful it is) across the film. They both give extraordinary performances in a film that feels very ahead of its time – not only with the procedural aspects but also the technical ones. There’s a chilling matter of facts to a lot of scenes, the murder of the Clutter family included, that cements the film as a true work of art and a revolutionary entry into the true crime genre.
What is incredible about In Cold Blood aside from the stunning cinematography, excellent performances, and a memorable score is that Brooks and crew went out of their way to make this a terrifying adaptation of Truman Capote’s bestseller. Watching it, you can see how David Fincher was influenced by it when adapting Zodiac. Both films are procedurals and both have truly chilling murder sequences. One of the most incredible aspects of the production is the editing – especially in the murder sequence – and you’ll see visuals that are not only unforgettable but must’ve served Brooks when deciding what to show and what not to show. In a way, it’s kind of reminiscent of what Alfred Hitchcock did with Psycho where you’re not sure what you see, and it’s all up to your imagination which makes it even more terrifying.
As a thriller In Cold Blood excels tremendously and even manages to include aspects of police procedurals and even horror. It’s a benchmark film in the true crime genre that still manages to chill you to its very core and will have you unnerved until the end credits roll.